With more fish expected to die in NSW amid scorching temperatures, water officials are set to meet to co-ordinate a response to the deaths and try to prevent more from happening.
Up to a million fish are dead in the Darling River at Menindee and more are likely to perish in coming days as temperatures rise.
The Murray-Darling Basin Authority has convened an urgent meeting of Basin officials in Canberra on Tuesday, including environmental water holders, river operators, fish scientists and water policy experts.
The gathering will include representatives from NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland – some of whom will be attending by teleconference – along with federal officials.
MDBA chief executive Phillip Glyde says the meeting will share information about the latest fish deaths and identify other areas in the basin at risk of similar events.
It will also tackle the big question of what can be done to stop them from happening.
“The fish deaths in the lower Darling River are a tragic reminder of the impact of severe drought, on an already over-stretched river system,” Mr Glyde said.
Federal Water Minister David Littleproud said on Monday he had asked the MDBA to convene the meeting.
But he stressed the Murray-Darling Basin Plan is based on the “best science” and that nobody could have planned for the severe drought affecting eastern Australia on which he pins blame for the event.
“The only thing that will fix this is rain,” he told reporters in Brisbane on Monday.
“It will come, but until then we have to use science and technology the best way we can to alleviate the extent of these horrific events.”
The federal government also wants states to agree to use $5 million from Murray-Darling Basin funds for a strategy to look after native fish.
NSW Primary Industries Minister Niall Blair called for an end to blame-shifting on the issue and warned against ineffective meetings.
“Holding a talkfest that does not identify any new water solutions to help the Menindee community, does not help anyone,” he told AAP.
Mr Blair said fish were killed by a “perfect storm” of factors including severely low water flow, algal blooms and a sudden drop in temperature.
Labor leader Bill Shorten wants an emergency task force to investigate the ecological disaster.
The clean-up at Menindee begins this week, with scientists saying rotting fish need to be urgently removed from the Darling River or the carcasses will trigger even more deaths.
The MDBA will run a second meeting of officials and experts next week.